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Diving into the Nitty-Gritty of Film Conservation in Kolkata

Diving into the Nitty-Gritty of Film Conservation in Kolkata

Picture a climate-controlled film vault in India—and then picture it with its door ajar, at the height of the midday heat, with a man standing right outside the entrance, smoke billowing forth from his cigarette. It wasn’t long ago that Criterion technical director Lee Kline was shown such a scene by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, the founder and director of the Film Heritage Foundation, an organization promoting film-preservation awareness and education in and around India. “You see that?” Kline recalls Dungarpur telling him. “This is why we have the workshop.”

Last month, Kline found himself back in India, for the fourth-annual installment of that very workshop, an intensive week of lectures and tutorials launched by the FHF, in conjunction with the International Federation of Film Archives, to address the region’s lack of a formal film-preservation training program. For this Film Preservation & Restoration Workshop, representatives of film institutions from all over the world converged on Kolkata cultural hub the Rabindranath Tagore Centre in order to teach over fifty participating students—this year’s class, selected from more than 130 applicants, included archivists, film technicians, and scholars from India as well as neighboring countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar—the core practical skills and guiding principles of moving-image conservation. And joining Kline in sharing their expertise were Criterion postproduction supervisor Giles Sherwood and quality-control and image-restoration supervisor Cara Shatzman.

The mission of the Film Heritage Foundation—in which Dungarpur’s wife, Teesha Cherian, is also heavily involved—and its signature educational initiative is undeniably ambitious, and something we’re behind all the way: preserving the rich but often imperiled cinematic heritage of a country that, as the FHF website estimates, “had lost 70 to 80 percent of our films” by the year 1950. To that end, the workshop makes sure that no base is left uncovered. Criterion was tasked with teaching color-correction and digital image restoration workshops, while still other classes, taught by professionals affiliated with such organizations as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the British Film Institute, and L’Immagine Ritrovata, focused on topics like film repair and audio restoration. “Cataloguing was also one of the most important topics—how to get your film and assets into a temperature-controlled vault, or some sort of space where they’re not sitting in 90-degree, 100-percent-humidity heat,” says Kline, who has attended three installments of the workshop. A particularly invaluable opportunity came courtesy of Munich-based film-equipment company ARRI, which arrived with an unwieldy piece of luggage. “They literally brought a scanner from Germany,” says Kline. “The fact that they brought it, and these students were able to literally take film, put it on a scanner, use the software to run it, and see how it all works is way better than any textbook or lecture.”

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